WHEN Harriet Warlow-Shill goes looking for legal talent, she doesn’t go headhunting.
Instead, the managing partner of the up-and-coming firm Warlows Legal seeks out her staff where nobody else is looking: in the homes of mothers whose workplace talents are languishing untapped.
In just three years, Ms Warlow- Shill — who founded the firm with senior partner Michael Kadoury when her fourth child was a newborn has built Warlows Legal from a tiny outfit that began in her loungeroom to a practice that employs 21 people in offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Jerusalem.
And its core team of women are unquestionably the foundation of the firm’s rapid success, says Ms Warlow-Shill.
“We have set out to identify and find women who are at home and who want to come back to the workforce; who have incredible talents and incredible experience,” she says.
“It’s helped us from a commercial point of view to offer top-tier, experienced lawyers, which wouldn’t be possible unless we were a top-tier firm in every other way.”
The 2014 InfoTrack/Janders Dean Survey released this week painted a pessimistic picture of gender diversity and female pro- gression in the law industry.
The survey found that taking parental leave was a career “kiss of death” for women in law firms. Three-quarters of respondents believed those who did so were less likely to make partner.
And 85 per cent of survey respondents said the Australian legal industry needed to be more flexible in work practices, technology and billing.
Warlows Legal specialises in data security, privacy law and start-up companies, and also offers services in property and conveyancing, intellectual property, construction,
corporate commercial law, employment, immigration and a host of other practice areas. It makes pioneering use of new technology, giving clients access to information via the cloud, and also setting up its team so they can work effectively and seamlessly from home.
The firm is made up of about 60 per cent women. Many of the 40 per cent of men are working fathers who also make use of the firm’s in-house facilities for children. Staff are encouraged to bring their children to work after school hours, if the children are sick, or if a deadline needs to be met and outside childcare is not available.
There is an in-house play area for children, and many of the women who work at Warlows Legal work school hours.
“What the legal profession is doing as a trend at the moment is saying to mothers ‘Yes, you can come back but only if it’s full-time, and you have lots of nannies and lots of childcare”, Ms Warlow- Shill says. “Or they say ‘Come back three days a week’, but these women will not be tracked towards progressing their careers.
“I have in the past in other firms been told women lawyers aren’t as good because they have a family and it’s a distraction. Whereas we say women lawyers are just as good and they develop great strengths in multi-tasking.
“Everyone manages their reponsibilities so quality is not compromised. I’m a tyrant for quality, an absolute tyrant.”
Judy Swan, an experienced special counsel in her 50s, found herself out of the job market for a brief period before being hired by Ms Warlow-Shill. Ms Swan says: “I was told to my face by a lot of people that if you are a woman and over 50, you won’t have a chance.
“Harriet gives people a second chance in life. It’s a very big thing. And now my daughter, who is 23 and studying law, comes into the office too. She sits in the board- room and studies.”
Warlows Legal was a finalist in the 2014 Telstra Business Awards in the start-up category, the first time a legal firm had been in contention.